The Board of Finance (BOF) held a public hearing last night (Tuesday, March 21) as a forum for residents to express comments and ask questions on the budget the Board of Selectmen (BOS) has proposed for FY2024.

The hearing was held in a hybrid meeting format: in person at Comstock Community Center and remotely via Zoom.

At first glance, the public hearing appeared to be well attended compared to last year’s hearings on the BOS budget. However, many of those in attendance were not there to discuss the budget, but rather the proposed new turf field and seasonal bubble the BOS is currently exploring. That topic was on the agenda at the BOS meeting immediately following the public hearing on the budget. (GOOD Morning Wilton will be reporting on that in a separate story.)

With little criticism for the BOS budget emerging from the hearing, attention is expected to turn to the much larger Board of Education (BOE) budget. The BOF will hold another public hearing on that BOE budget proposal on Monday, March 27.

Overall Perspective

BOF Chair Michael Kaelin offered some opening comments to set the stage for the public’s comments on the BOS budget.

Kaelin began his presentation with several key “highlights” germane to the overall FY’24 budget:

  • The Board of Education‘s proposed budget increased by $3,903,830 to $90,581,692 — a 4.5% year-over-year increase
  • The Board of Selectmen’s proposed operating and capital budget increased by $730,231 to $34,673,595 — a 2.15% increase
  • The cost of debt service is increasing by $1,329,750 — a 14.73% increase
  • The tax relief program for the elderly and disabled is down by $110,000 — a 1.03% decrease
  • Other revenues decreased by $181,092 — 3.24% decrease
  • The total funds required increased by $6,023,449 to $136,966,349 — a 4.6% increase
  • The Grand List increased by $44,826,930 to $4,402,822,211 — a 1.03% increase
  • The resulting mill rate would increase by 1.6049 to 29.8338 — a 5.69% increase

Kaelin went on to review the BOF’s approach to its upcoming budget deliberations. As outlined in the Town Charter, the BOF must consider:

  • The views of the Town’s citizens
  • The financial resources of the Town
  • The extent to which, in the BOF’s collective judgment, the BOE and BOS can find savings within their respective budget requests
  • The appropriateness of revenue, debt service and general fund balance amounts

Public Comment

Following a brief presentation by First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, several members of the public requested to speak.

Former Selectwoman Deb McFadden spoke on budget priorities including cybersecurity protection and her support for the new food waste program at the Transfer Station. She also commented that the potential 5.69% mill rate increase would be “a big lift” for many residents — a phrase echoed by several other speakers during the hearing.

Rem Bigosinski came to the meeting prepared with several questions on the proposed budget, including WestCOG dues, Master Planning spending, and several specific line items in the budget. He did not offer an overall opinion to the BOF on favoring or opposing the budget.

James Van Acker expressed concern about what he considers “a rush to judgment and “lack of vetting of the expenses” for the new turf field being explored by the BOS as a possible bonding referendum in May. Kaelin suggested he provide his concerns in writing to be considered separately for the BOF’s upcoming discussion on bonding items.

Warren Serenbetz told the BOF he felt the 5.69% mill rate increase “or anything over 3.5% to 4% is a heavy lift.” He said he found the BOS budget “very reasonable” and “any savings should come from elsewhere.”

Andrew Maria expressed support for the proposed BOS budget, saying the BOS had earned his trust over the years by finding cost savings and keeping increases low. He also previewed his own support for the BOE budget that will be the subject at its own public hearing next Monday, March 27.

Michael Salit said he supported the proposed, “well-scrubbed” BOS budget, but had bigger concerns about the mill rate increase (which he also called “a heavy lift”) and the BOE budget. “We might end up swallowing a big increase because less than 15% of voters turn out [at the Annual Town Meeting],” Salit warned.

Richard Berghaus said he supported the BOS budget, but questioned the 1% increase in the Grand List and why Grand List growth was not keeping pace with expenses. Vanderslice provided additional insights on the Grand List calculations and suggested that more growth was likely next year.

Sarah Curtis asked the BOF to “consider the heavy burden” on many Wilton residents, particularly those still feeling negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although she said she has been supportive of the BOS budget in the past, she was disappointed with “the tone” of some discussions this year, including Vanderslice’s response to BOF member Chris Stroup’s written questions on the BOS budget proposal.

Email and Survey Options Still Open

The BOF is urging the public to weigh in with their thoughts on the BOS and BOE budgets and the 5.69% mill rate increase. Residents may contact the BOF by email or respond to its survey now in progress.

Next Steps

March 27: BOF public hearing on the BOE budget

April 3: BOS finalizes its list of bonded projects

April 3, 4 and 10: BOF deliberations on the proposed budgets

April 10: First Selectwoman presents bonded projects list to BOF

May 2: Annual Town Meeting

May 6: Adjourned vote at the Clune Center

One reply on “Handful of Residents say 5.69% Mill Rate Increase would be “Heavy Lift” during Public Hearing on BOS Budget”

  1. “Warren Serenbetz told the BOF he felt the 5.69% mill rate increase “or anything over 3.5% to 4% is a heavy lift.””

    So this is all about 1.69%, or, for somebody with a fairly nice house paying $12,000 in property taxes a year, $200? That isn’t nothing, but compared with the capital cost + other associated expenses of owning a house in our wealthy/expensive town, it’s a bit of a stretch to argue this is going to make a meaningful difference to most Wilton property taxpayers. (while it most certainly does make a meaningful difference to the BoE/BoS budgets)

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